New ETS project: Exploring the underground together with the smartphone


Successful applications from the specialist group in the Exploratory Teaching Space (ETS) in 2020

  Awardees of ETS  

The Exploratory Teaching Space, ETS for short, was set up at RWTH Aachen University in 2009 as part of the future concept for teaching - building on the positive experience in research. ETS pursues the goal of creating a platform for the creative generation of ideas in the field of teaching at RWTH. The calls take place once a year. The submitted applications are assessed internally at RWTH Aachen University and then selected by the ETS selection committee, consisting of the ETS steering committee and one representative each of the academic staff and the students.

Fortunately, two applications from the Geosciences and Geography department were honored in 2020:

  1. ETS 455: GeoPhyphox - Exploring the underground together with the smartphone by Prof. Florian Wagner and Dr. Norbert Klitzsch

  2. ETS 439: Base Friction Table by Prof. Florian Amann, Dr. Pooya Hamdi and Dr. Anja Dufresne

ETS 455: GeoPhyphox - Exploring the underground together with the smartphone by Prof. Florian Wagner and Dr. Norbert Klitzsch

The aim of this project is to develop geophysical experiments with smartphones, which students can use to acquire knowledge in lectures, e.g. for the localization of earthquakes, through joint experimental field work. Furthermore, the experiments should serve to convey practical aspects such as logistics in the field, quality control of the measurement data on site and subsequent data processing and visualization, which are usually neglected in the lecture hall. A geophysical field internship can so far only be offered for a very small group of students due to the small number of existing measuring devices and the logistical effort, but it is an essential aspect of geophysics training.
In this project we want to design geophysical experiments using the phyphox app developed in Aachen, which enables sensors in smartphones to be controlled. It is already widely used for experiments in physics at schools and universities - but so far not in geophysics. The use for geophysical experiments in the field requires further developments, which we want to realize as part of this project. If geophysical experiments with the smartphone are possible, they can be used in several courses in the B.Sc. and M.Sc. areas and the students can independently carry out experiments and process the measurement results obtained using interactive web-based documents (Jupyter notebooks) , analyze, visualize and interpret with regard to their accuracy. These work steps are elementary in the later profession of geophysicists (e.g. in the search for raw materials), their early and broad communication is due to the above. logistical challenges are not possible. Furthermore, the developments in this project are intended to make geophysical issues such as to bring induced seismicity closer (e.g. at the RWTH Science Night) and, in particular, to inspire schoolchildren to study geosciences.

ETS 439: Base Friction Table by Prof. Florian Amann, Dr. Pooya Hamdi and Dr. Anja Dufresne

An essential part of practical engineering geology is the translation of geological information into
construction design or engineering-geological assessments and prognoses. This concerns in
particular tunnel design and construction, and assessment of slope stability. These important tasks
of engineering geology are central in our teaching. Of particular relevance is the interaction
between the orientations of geological interfaces with the construction axis, respectively with a
natural/artificial slope. Depending on the geometric constellation, degrees of freedom result, which
determine the fracture mechanism. For example, in the simplest case, a rock slope will tilt when
the geological interfaces collapse against the slope or slide when they collapse with the slope.
Our goal is to improve student understanding of failure mechanisms and fracture processes
significantly by simulating them physically with a mobile Base Friction Table (Fig. 1). Motivated by
the positive experiences in previous classes (Amann at ETH Zürich), we designed learning
concepts tailored to our courses. The Table can be used in a variety of settings, e.g. during
lectures by projecting the simulation onto the screen or for small group work during exercises and
tutorials. By providing practical live examples of the complex topics taught theoretically we can
convey these processes much more vividly. Furthermore, students can autonomously test their
own ideas, investigate increasingly complex geometric constellations, and compare the
experiments with, respectively validate the numerical models taught in exercises. We intend to
implement the Base Friction Table for in-class demonstration in the BSc course Rock and Soil
Mechanics (~100 students) and as hands-on, small-group exercises in the MSc courses
Underground Excavation (~50 students) and Landslide and Rock Slope Analysis (~40 students).

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